New Food Safety Rules Delayed by Election Year Politics

Washington is having a hard time delivering promised reforms.

Photo: Getty Images

Aug 3, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Action on the crucial 2012 Farm Bill isn’t the only thing being stalled in our nation’s capital this summer. A growing number of regulations that impact our nation’s food supply and safety are also languishing in the steamy D.C. heat.

A few weeks ago, we filled you in on the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in January 2011. Despite the fact that one in six Americans will become ill from a foodborne illness each year, very little has been done to get implementation of the law underway. In fact, there’s a very good chance that some of you reading this got sick from a preventable foodborne illness since the law was signed eight months ago.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press listed several other examples of governmental dawdling, including a federal limit on water runoff in Florida—a problem that dogs rivers, lakes and streams with excess nutrients, algae blooms and pollutants.

RELATED: The Hidden Costs of the Farm Bill

Approved regulations should have gone into effect in March. They didn’t. Not only did the delay disappoint environmentalists, but it turns out the inaction may have repercussions that could result in killing off the regulation altogether. That, along with plenty of aquatic life.

Juvenile fish and shellfish that die in cooling water intakes of power plants are shouldering EPA procrastination too, after the agency announced that implementation of a new regulation addressing the problem would also be delayed until next year.

Oh, and hey! Remember when EPA officials were supposed to regulate pollution on livestock farms? Yeah, that didn’t happen either.

“[Environmentalists] were flabbergasted when the EPA recently decided against adopting a rule that would require livestock operators to provide the agency with information, opting instead to try to cobble it together from other state, local and federal sources—a decision they said puts the EPA right back where it started,” writes AP reporter Tammy Webber.

Governmental tardiness has impacted schools too. The Obama administration assured it would set nutritional standards for food sold outside of designated meal plans (think vending machines, bake sales, or candy bar fundraisers), but districts have been left hanging.

“The rule has been under review at the White Hour for months, and was supposed to be ready in June,” writes Dina Capiello for the AP.

Oops. It’s August, and still nothing.

And these are just examples that touch on our food system in some way. Other examples of governmental inaction are impacting other areas like environmental regulations, worker safety, and more.

While it certainly feels like election year politics at play, are the brakes being applied so the administration can avoid controversy? Are these political hot buttons that could make Obama seem anti-business in an election year? Plenty think so.

“If something sits [at the White House] for a year…is it political pressure or is it that they are tinkering with the details?” Randy Rabinowitz, director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch, tells the AP. “The speculation is not the latter, but none of us really know because the process is so hidden.”

More on the Farm Bill:

9 Shocking Facts About the Food Industry

Big Ag's Big Money in Politics

GOP Wants to Slash Money for Hungry Americans